Gays and lesbians have faced enough discrimination to know better than to delegitimize the experience and identity of bisexuals

Emerson Collins

Within the big LGBT tent, there are myriad strong and specific spaces and groups for lesbians, gay men and — even more so lately — transgender individuals who wish to avail themselves of the opportunity to organize or socialize with those who have shared experiences.

However, it seems those who identify as bisexual are often left out, ignored or outright rejected from those spaces by a great deal of dismissive judgment from within the community.

Certainly it comes as no surprise that bisexuals experience ridicule or oppression in the broader heterosexual society similar to that experienced by homosexuals. But that they experience a different version of the same skepticism within the community is disheartening. It actually seems bisexuals are more easily accepted in transgender groups and spaces than in gay or lesbian ones. This is likely a result of the degree to which the transgender community still struggles far more greatly for acceptance in the broader culture than the gay community does.

Why is that? Why are gays and lesbians so likely to respond derisively to bisexuals after experiencing so much judgment for our own sexuality? It ultimately boils down to prejudice, and that it happens inside our community where we are all well-versed in the impact of prejudice makes it that much worse.

Judgment from those one does not know is easily dismissed. But it is significantly harder to ignore when it comes from those who should be friends or, at the very least, allies.

Some of the gay and lesbian disdain for bisexuality is specific to the gay experience. The fact that many who ultimately identify as gay or lesbian begin that journey by first coming out as bisexual has led to a community-wide epidemic of eye-rolling at those who first enter the community and proclaim their bisexuality.

“Sure honey,” a gay person says with a head tilt and knowing nod, “of course you’re bi. On the bi-way to gay town. Let us know when you reach the destination.”

It’s insulting to bisexuals on several levels. First, it’s stereotyping to presume that because gays start by claiming bisexuality, all bisexuals are just coming to terms with being gay or unwilling to commit. An entire sexual identity cannot be dismissed as a “phase” just because it is a stepping-stone for some gay people. Moreover, to presume that because someone is young they cannot be fully aware of their own sexuality is arrogant and ignorant.

Anecdotal evidence from the lesbian community supports a similar view from many there, as well. The idea that there are straight women in a lesbian phase rather than women who are bisexual negates the bisexual identity in an equally harmful way.

A first same-sex experience may indeed be an awakening and connection to one’s true sexual identity. It may also be a realization that the individual is bisexual, expanding their sexual identity to include a broader spectrum than simply flipping from straight to gay. Both are equally valid and should be treated as such without presuming to dictate to that individual which is actually happening for them.

Both gay women and men can be incredibly guilty of reinforcing a sexual preference binary with the idea that one is either completely gay or totally not, delegitimizing the sexuality of anyone who is anywhere in between. It becomes the gay equivalent of the “one drop” rule. If a guy has ever had a homosexual experience — he’s gay.

It’s one of the few instances where homophobic straight culture and gay culture can treat bisexuals the same: “He hooked up with a dude once, he’s gay.” It’s an extremely isolating judgment against bisexual men. Whether it’s a straight guy or a gay guy saying it, it’s equally dismissive, and equally wrong.

Bisexual women tend to be treated the opposite. Whereas bisexual men are “once gay, always gay,” bisexual women having a first homosexual experience or relationship are judged to be having a “lesbian phase,” as though they are a silly college girl on spring break in Cancun, so it is something they will grow out of and go back to being straight.
Whether it is diminishing a woman’s bisexuality or accentuating a man’s, it is not fair and is akin to saying bisexuality does not exist. That certainly should not be happening within our community. The denial of anyone’s existence in the LGBT community should be left to the bigots outside of our world, and we should be fighting them together, on behalf of all of us.

As homosexuals, we’ve expended an enormous amount of effort demanding respect for our identities. We cannot then deny that same respect to those who are bisexual. All of the understanding we ask for should be given to them first and loudest from us.

The list of complaints about bisexuals often stated by gays and lesbians for why they are leery of bisexuals sounds just as ignorant as those of straight people. They’re promiscuous. They’ll decide they are straight. They’ll cheat with the opposite sex. These complaints are also all easily dismissible with even the most cursory consideration. Cheating has nothing to do with sexuality. If an individual decides they are straight, they were not really bisexual — or homosexual — to begin with. Promiscuity can be a characteristic of any sexuality and is representative of the individual, not the sexuality.

A bisexual person is not gay when in a same-sex relationship any more than they are straight when in a heterosexual one. Limiting the individual through the label of their relationship is reductive by forcing them to fit in a binary sexuality that none of us should be promoting.

More importantly, bisexuality and those who are even more fluid, with possibly a preference for one kind of relationship or sexuality while being open to another, should be celebrated for  throwing off the sexual repression the strictly homosexual community has been fighting against for so long. Individuals should be free to explore their sexuality. Allowing people the time to be open-minded and figure out who they are should be easier as we gain wider acceptance. We will stunt that process and limit the exploration of others if we in the community are rushing to scream “gay” at any guy who explores intimacy with a man or dismissing a woman as a tease who flirts with the idea of being with a woman.

We should be celebrating bisexuals as we celebrate each other. They are not “greedy” or “in denial” or “going through a phase.” They have a very specific identity that we should respect and welcome. After all, in the grand LGBT scheme of things, they are on our team … even when they aren’t “on our team.”    •

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 5, 2014.